Local Nurse Discusses Uncertainty, a Sustainable Model and Creativity During the Pandemic

You might say that 2020 has been a rough year. You might say that it has pulled at our sanity from multiple directions. For us here at SF Station, it’s been particularly challenging in certain respects.

It’s been hard to connect with people the way we usually do, so we thought we’d share some insights on the pandemic from one of our own.

We caught up with one of our music photographers, Robin Russell, over the quarantine break. When she’s not wading through the music scene, she’s working as a nurse on the front lines of the crisis. We thought her story would present us with another opportunity to consider how life and work so often intersect.

Russell, in a custom-made festival wristband kaftan at Desert Hearts (Photo by Manny Miramontes)

Russell moved to San Francisco nearly two decades ago from Miami Beach on a traveling Resident Nurse assignment. She had always wanted to live in a city with a vibrant music scene.

Back home, she had been an avid photographer with a darkroom set up in her bedroom, but often wondered whether a career as a photographer would mean a lifetime as a starving artist. After a stint in the Army ROTC, and encouragement from her mother (also a nurse), she realized it might be possible to pursue two equally fulfilling careers without giving something up.

Photography and nursing might sound like two wildly different job paths, but Russell sees things differently.

“Whether it’s caring for someone medically or shooting their photo, I like getting to know who they are and sharing a story or a laugh, forming a connection,” she says. “At their very essence, I think both serve to heal.”

Breakfast of Champions & It’s A New Day New Year’s Day Block Party by Robin Russell

At the very best, Russell’s experiences in the healthcare field may resonate with us and bring perspective to what we’ve been dealing with throughout this two-month (and counting) lock down. At the very least, you might feel more gratitude for living in a city that makes not going out such a hard thing to manage.

Well, welcome to my first shelter-in-place interview. Things have been real interesting lately. How have you been staying busy?

Hi Ashley! Thanks so much for the interview. My intention coming into 2020 was to fine-tune my life—to simplify things, to focus on things that are important to me and to tread lightly. The shelter-in-place order has made it easier to work on all of these things and definitely without the FOMO on the multitude of fun events always going on in the Bay Area. My biggest projects have been editing and organizing 30+ years of photos, and my big music and clothing/costume collections. I’ve also been exploring a lot more of southern Marin through running, hiking and cycling.

What’s it like being in the healthcare field in the middle of a pandemic that’s shaking nearly every industry?

I’m grateful to be in a profession where I am still working. Healthcare is a dynamic profession, so I’m used to taking everything in stride, pandemics included. I have undergone additional recent training to work with COVID-19 ICU patients in the event of a surge. We’ve been waiting for the other boot to drop, but so far we haven’t had the surge. It can be a little unnerving not knowing what’s going to happen next and if we will have adequate resources to meet those needs.

What were some of your initial thoughts when you first heard about COVID-19? Did you ever think we’d end up where we are now?

When I first heard about COVID-19, I thought it would be yet another infectious disease that would appear in the media for a brief time, followed by some hospital in-service training and then would disappear from view, like SARS and MERS did. I certainly did not think that we’d end up where we are now. But considering climate change and emerging antibiotic resistant pathogens, I had a feeling something like this would happen sooner or later, and with more to follow.

Reggie Watts at Sunset Sound System Halloween Costume Boat Party by Robin Russell

You also work as an event photographer and are deeply involved in the music scene. How have you seen things change within this industry since the crisis began?

It’s heartbreaking what has happened to the music industry since this crisis began. I have so many friends whose careers are in this industry and are having a really difficult time making ends meet without any gigs lined up for the foreseeable future. But it has been interesting to see emerging creativity with virtual events.

The online virtual productions are plentiful and definitely getting more and more creative. Artists who haven’t really explored the online world are starting to perform, sell their creations and offer online classes/workshops.

What’s the best way we can support both healthcare workers and musicians after this is all over?

For healthcare workers, I would say, please have patience. We have been working a lot to make preparations to manage a surge of COVID patients and create safer environments. We are slowly starting to resume routine care and the massive backlog of elective surgeries that need to be done. Please don’t expect things to run on schedule or happen quickly. Please follow the current guidelines regarding social distancing, hygiene practices, and the like. We aren’t out of the woods yet and still need to be vigilant.

For musicians, artists and local businesses, support them as much as possible. Buy their art, go to their shows, tip as much as possible. Since it is predicted that live shows, clubs events, and other large gatherings will be the last to reconvene, please support them financially through online forums.

See also: These San Francisco Bay Area Music Venues Need Your Help to Survive

All Day I Dream Of Oakland Bliss by Robin Russell

What positive things do you see coming out of this pandemic?

Hardships aside, I am loving that people are having this giant pause to discover creative interests, to spend more time with loved ones, to explore nature, and to focus on what’s truly important. I hope people will understand that, in general, we haven’t been operating from a sustainable model, and will make changes at every level to make it more sustainable. It’s definitely been a wake up call for so many. In healthcare, it’s a good lesson to learn from in terms of emergency preparedness.

I would also have to say the memes! I’ve come to appreciate memes as a new kind of pop art. It’s definitely a generational expression of art, something that almost anyone can make, and relate to current events. Some are masterful creations. I’ve curated over 700 memes related to COVID-19 in a Facebook album. I think humor is really important, especially when it helps alleviate stress and brings awareness to situations.

Editor’s Note: When Russell isn’t making the hospital rounds you might find her making and dressing up in costumes, or going on road trips in her Airstream trailer. You can find more of her music photography on SF Station and Instagram.

If you’d like to support local artists and our staff, you can also donate to our SF Station Staff Fundraiser.